19 October 2013

AdvanFort Vessel Dedicated to Protect Freight Shipping from Pirate Threat Arrested and Held  

Indian Officials in Turmoil over Double Standards

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INDIA – INDIAN OCEAN – US – Once again we face the ridiculous situation of those prepared to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others, suffering at the hands of the very authorities whose job it is to protect those same innocents. Our recent piece on the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, belonging to US based maritime security outfit AdvanFort, sheltering from the tropical cyclone which swept across the sea and into the subcontinent was, it seems, a little premature in the light of subsequent actions. The Ohio is part of that select group of private security vessels charged with supporting naval forces in the defence of container and other freight shipping against the pirate threat, and naturally carries the necessary weaponry.

The Indian Navy has not hesitated to use force when necessary to overcome would be pirates as we have seen in several previous incidents, indeed the Indian authorities have even faced blackmail by hostage holding criminal demanding ‘compensation’ on behalf of their dead colleagues. Now, when faced by a vessel carrying over thirty men with a large cache of weapons, it seems the vagaries of the arrangement whereby armed security personnel are welcome to roam the ocean, but never to close on land, even in extreme weather conditions, are proving too much for the authorities in some countries.

Now the crew of the AdvanFort vessel are up against forces who do not like losing face in the light of evidence that proves, wherever in the ocean they were intercepted, the personnel aboard the Ohio were engaged in the business of protecting lives, in a manner approved by governments worldwide. The Ohio herself was inspected at the port where she is now held in September and issued with a clean bill of health, one look at the vessels exterior tells even a casual observer that this is nothing but a ship of war, privateer or otherwise.

Even in India there is surprise in many quarters at the apparently harsh line taken against the security personnel, led by a skipper who himself was apparently a pirate hostage two years ago. Indian Deputy National Security Advisor Nehchal Sandhu has said that the country cannot ‘concoct law’ after agreeing that the ship had first been detained in the Laccadive Sea around fifteen miles from the Indian coast. Mr Sandhu commented that anything beyond the twelve mile limit was not within the realm of Indian control remarking, ‘if there is a ship beyond that and doing whatever it is doing, then what can anybody do in terms of law?’

India now needs to face up to the fact that, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and if one assumes that the vessel was indeed intercepted outside territorial waters, she should be released immediately. Even if she in fact did flee closer to shore in the light of the approaching typhoon, it was proposed multilaterally to escalate measures against piracy by the world’s governments, and it has been by the efforts of these ‘hired guns’ as well as the use of Best Management Practices and the sterling efforts of the international Combined Naval Task Forces which has restored relative peace to the Indian Ocean.

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